Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 24th 2015 Contents DECEMBER 24 • 2015 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG3
Chief editor-business: ANTHONY WILSON
Editing and design: NATASHA SAIDWAN
Telephone: 225-4465, ext 2035, 2025
(868) 225-3147 (Editorial)
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4--10 Rodney Road,
PO Box 122.
On Thursday last week, the
chief executive of majority
state-owned TSTT signed
a collective agreement with
Workers Union, the entity
that represents the com-
pany s 2,000 junior and senior staff, granting
the employees a ten per cent wage increase for
the period January 2011 to December 2013.
The wage increase was two per cent in the
first year, three per cent in the second year and
five per cent in the final year of the collective
agreement. It included the consolidation of a
COLA (cost of living allowance) of $1,041 to the
base salary of the employees.
As a senior business journalist attending a
news conference, it is my duty to report not
only what is said at a news event, but what is
meant by what is disclosed. That s so that some-
one reading the story would have a better sense
of what is the story behind the story.
So, in writing the story, I asked myself this
question: What does the consolidation of a
COLA of $1,041 mean to the compensation of
the TSTT employees.
I then did what any good journalist would
do in this situation: run the numbers---which
involved adding the COLA of $1,041 to the base
salary and then applying the increment for each
of the three years---and then have the result
verified by someone at the company.
The article stated: "The consolidation of
COLA, hypothetically, means a TSTT employee
who had a base salary...." By the use the word
hypothetically, the author of the article was sig-
nalling to the reader that the base salary used
was not an actual salary but was being used to
illustrate the bigger point about the impact of
the consolidation of COLA on the salaries of
TSTT s junior and senior staff.
Using the hypothetical base salary that I did,
the conclusion arrived at was that someone at
TSTT working for that amount would have
received 18 per cent more salary at the end of
2013 than at the beginning of 2011. In other
words, what appeared to be a ten per cent wage
increase over three years, was more like 18 per
cent for a worker with the hypothetical base
salary cited in the article.
On Friday morning, the day that the article
was published, the CWU sent out a long press
release, which was signed by its secretary general
In the first paragraph, Mr Remy stated: "The
union would like to clear the air on what can
only be described as a dangerous and vexatious
move to have the public believe that the average
TSTT worker earns what was falsely published."
Elsewhere in the statement, Mr Remy said:
"The union wishes to state emphatically that
despite these two settlements (2008 to 2010
and 2011 to 2013), the average junior staff TSTT
employee would not be earning the erroneous
figure that was published in the Trinidad
The veteran trade unionist also described the
hypothetical base salary as "this dastardly and
cowardly act of publishing erroneous salary
information for TSTT workers under the guise
of the hypothetical.
"The CWU would be seeking legal advice on
this issue and we commit to do all within our
powers to protect our bargaining unit employees.
We would not be cowed into a corner and allow
our hard working, dedicated, committed employ-
ees to be subjected to public pressure and health
and safety risks all because they got their just
due from a company that they continue to make
As I told Mr Remy by email, I reject totally
and categorically his statement that the story
I authored gave the impression that the base
salary quoted represented what the average
TSTT worker receives.
While the word "average" appears nowhere
in the story, the word hypothetically does.
The story simply could not have given the
"impression" that what was quoted represented
"what the average TSTT worker" receives, when
it should have clear to anyone reading the story
that this was a HYPOTHETICAL salary.
The purpose of using a HYPOTHETICAL
salary was to indicate the fact that the consol-
idation of COLA adds significantly to the com-
pensation of TSTT workers.
It was meant to place the achievement of the
CWU in the appropriate context of recent col-
lective agreements signed by the Government
and state-owned enterprises.
Anyone reading that TSTT workers received
2-3-5 without the appropriate context would
be forgiven for thinking that the CWU was less
effective in bargaining than the PSA or the
Given the shrillness of the comrade s reaction,
it seems that the disclosure of the impact of
the consolidation of COLA might have struck
some kind of raw nerve in the hierarchy of the
While one is not sure exactly the nature of
the raw nerve, it may be that the CWU wants
the taxpayers of T&T to believe that it settled
for a ten per cent wage increase in its most
recent collective bargaining period and to remain
blissfully unaware of the impact of the consol-
idation of COLA on the salaries of some 2,000
workers in the collective bargaining units.
As it is the purpose of a trade union to bargain
with the employer for better wages and con-
ditions of employment for the workers it rep-
resents, this reticence to acknowledge that all
the employees of TSTT received more than the
stated ten per cent increase in their compensation
is a little strange.
But what is also clear is that TSTT may have
come to the end of the period in which it could
afford to agree to pay its workers double-digit
This is based on the premise that in 2016,
TSTT will face even greater competition as the
Massy group rolls out its offerings of fixed
broadband and cable television to communities
across the country and Digicel continues to roll
out its fibre-to-business service, to be followed
by an offering similar to Massy s.
Not only does TSTT face greater competition
in the future than it did in the past, but this
is in the context of an economy that everyone
agrees is contracting as a result of the precipitous
decline in the earnings from the energy sector.
Prime Minister Keith Christopher Rowley has
made clear on a number of occasions that the
entire population will be required to make adjust-
ments in the future.
For the business sector---which includes TSTT
and all of the companies in the telecommuni-
cations industry---that is likely to mean a reduc-
tion in the amount of revenue they earn as the
population becomes more judicious in the
amount of time they spend on their mobile
phones, downgrades the broadband and cable
packages they pay for and perhaps learn to live
without their landline phone.
In an industry that depends on volume, a
reduction in revenue is likely to mean a decline
in cashflow and in profits.
If that is the case, the question then becomes
whether TSTT will be in a position to afford
to continue increasing the salaries of its workers
as well as consolidating their COLA.
On the issue of affordability, it would be useful
if TSTT were to publish its accounts more often
and if it could place its historical financials on
its website so that the entire population can
know the company s financial status.
Hiding behind the fact that TSTT is a sub-
sidiary of the investment holding company,
National Enterprises Ltd, is not going to cut it
in the new year.
of COLA justified?
TSTT chairman makes a point about the need for the management and the union at the
company to work as partners to Joseph Remy, the secretary general of the Communication
Workers Union at last Thursday's signing of the 2011 to 2013 collective agreement at TSTT's
head office in Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: RISHI RAGOONATH
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